Ten Commandments trivia

We have all seen the image of Moses—in paintings, drawings, and movies—carrying the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed by God. Like many of our religious traditions, the familiar picture is most likely inaccurate.

The Bible does not record the size of the tablets, although a maximum size is determined by the size of the ark built to contain them. The Hebrew word translated “tablet” (or, in the KJV, “table”) refers to the fact that the material—stone, wood, or metal—was polished; the word could be used to describe any such object, from a plate to a table. Rabbinic tradition says that each tablet was ten inches by twenty inches, which corresponds to similar legal documents of that time. (It’s also about the size of the tablets that people use today.) They also would have been rectangles with four sharp corners, unlike the shape usually shown in artwork. Rabbinic tradition further says that the stones were blue—either sapphire or lapis lazuli—taken from the floor under God’s throne as seen by Moses and the other leaders of Israel.

The Bible indicates that the stones were each inscribed on both sides by the finger of God. Many teachers describe the stones as if some of the commandments were written on one tablet and the rest on the other, but far more likely both tablets contained all the commandments. The two stone tablets were duplicate copies of a contract, similar to the two pieces of paper produced when you use a credit card at a store. The store keeps one copy you have signed and you keep the other copy. Because Moses was acting as a mediator between God and Israel, he was entrusted with both copies of the contract.

When God spoke the commandments from Mount Sinai to the people of Israel, before Moses received the same commandments in writing, he spoke “ten words” according to the book of Exodus. Because Exodus does not enumerate the commandments, different traditions count them in various ways. One tradition combines the prohibition of other gods with the prohibition of graven images; that tradition then closes the Ten Commandments with two prohibitions of coveting. In this tradition the Ninth Commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s house, which includes any property that is bought with money alone. The Tenth Commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s spouse, workers, or work animals, or anything that is your neighbors—anything bound to your neighbor by loyalty. (This would include pets and even friends.) Another tradition has a distinct prohibition of graven images—the Second Commandment—and closes with only one commandment against coveting. In the third tradition, both combinations are made, but the first “word” of God is the opening declaration, “I am the Lord your God.” Because of these different ways of numbering the commandments, mention of the Sixth Commandment without any context causes some people to think of murder and others to think of adultery.

When teachers or artists describe the two tablets as if they contained different groups of commandments, they separate the commandments into a vertical relationship—our relationship with God—and horizontal relationships—our relationships with other people. These relationships are summarized in the two greatest commandments: to love God wholeheartedly, and to love each neighbor as yourself. The first three or four commandments speak of other gods, graven images, God’s name, and God’s time; the remaining six or seven speak of parents and neighbors. In my opinion, the commandment to “honor your father and your mother” (as well as others in authority) should be counted with the vertical relationship. All figures of authority are pictures of God’s authority. The way we treat our parents, teachers, supervisors, and government officials represents our attitude towards God’s authority. After that commandment, the Ten Commandments continue with an orderly set of commandments about horizontal relationships, defending (in order) our neighbors’ lives, marriages, property, and reputations. Coveting is uniquely a sin both horizontal and vertical. We cannot love our neighbors while being angry that they have something good that we do not have. We cannot love God when we refuse to be content with the good things he has made available to us.

The Ten Commandments are an owner’s manual for our lives. They inform us why we were made, why we are alive today, and what we are supposed to be doing. When we break any of these commandments, we void the contract we have made with God; we void the warranty he gave us with these commandments. Yet Jesus Christ, the Son of God, obeyed these commandments in our place, setting us free from their burden. We live by them now, not to earn the blessings of God, but to imitate Christ since he has rescued us from the consequences of sin and made us free people, unbound by the commandments. Of course these facts are not trivia: the knowledge contained in this paragraph is the most important knowledge any person can possess. J.

Moses

The difference between ham and premarital sex

Scholars have observed that in the Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), God has given 613 commandments (mitzvah) to his people. Some of these commands are affirmed by Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament, but others are canceled. Students of the Bible wrestle with the difference: why are some things required by Moses but no longer required by the apostles? Why are some things forbidden by Moses but permitted by the apostles? What is the difference between ham and premarital sex?

Let’s take some test cases to examine God’s commands. One of his commands is, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Under the Law of Moses, the Sabbath was defined as the seventh day of the week, beginning at sunset Friday and ending at sunset Saturday. A few Christians go to church on Saturdays; some of them even call Sunday worship “the mark of the beast.” Some worship on the first day of the week but move the prohibition of any work to Sundays, passing “blue laws” that require certain kinds of business to be closed every Sunday. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, Easter Sunday, bounces around in March or April according to a complicated formula involving the full moon. Early in Christianity, believers tried to reach a consensus on the day of that celebration. Some of them became so angry about the different formulas that they actually excommunicated each other—saying that people weren’t really part of the Church if they celebrated Easter on the wrong day. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The Law of Moses made strict stipulations about food, especially meat. Blood had to be drained from meat, so that no blood was consumed by God’s people. Only certain animals were kosher (acceptable as food), animals that chewed the cud and had a split hoof. Pigs were not kosher, nor were rabbits and rodents. Fish had to have scales; shrimp and lobster and oysters were forbidden. A few Christians try to stick to kosher food laws today, at least in part. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The first Christians, including all twelve apostles, were Jewish. They maintained Saturday worship and kosher food rules out of habit. When people of other cultures began believing in Jesus, Church leaders wondered how many Laws of Moses needed to be followed by the new believers. Must the men become circumcised? Must the families maintain kosher kitchens? Must they refrain from all work on Saturdays? Acts 15 describes the first Christian convention, as the apostles gathered to discuss these questions. They concluded that only four rules needed to be followed by the Gentiles: Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from animals that have been strangled, and from sexual immorality.

One might expect a few more prohibitions, such as murder and theft and false witness. Evidently the Church leaders thought it obvious that these are not permitted among Christians. It seems strange, though, that three of the four prohibitions are food-related, and all three were later canceled by Paul, in spite of the fact that he took part in this meeting. Paul told congregations in Rome and in Corinth that their members could eat meat that had been offered to idols so long as no one present had a problem with that. He wrote to the Colossian Christians, “Let no one pass judgment on you in regards to food or drink….”

“The substance is Christ.” All the commands of the Law of Moses were pictures of Jesus Christ. Some of the pictures are easily seen, such as the animal sacrifices and the Passover lamb. Others require deeper study, such as resting on the seventh day of the week. Not only did God as Creator rest on the seventh day of the week, but Jesus Christ as Redeemer rested on the seventh day of Holy Week. His body rested in a tomb. His spirit rested in the hands of his Father in Paradise. Christians are free from the Law because Christ has fulfilled the Law for us. The substance—that is, Christ—has come, so we no longer need to observe the shadows. We are free.

Our freedom is not license to do whatever our sinful hearts desire. Our freedom is power to imitate Jesus. As imitators of Christ, we still love God whole-heartedly. As imitators of Christ, we love our neighbors. We respect their lives, their marriages, their property, and their reputations. We act to help our neighbors rather than hurting them or ignoring them. We are content with what God has given us, so we do not covet anything that belongs to our neighbors.

The Church convention of Acts 15 appears to have been studying Leviticus, chapters 17 and 18. All four of their prohibitions are found in those chapters. Leviticus is about purity. It provided the Israelites instruction in remaining pure, beginning with sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, and continuing with various other rules, laws, and commandments. The Church convention chose those signs of purity that might challenge Gentiles. Anything offered to idols would seem tainted and not pure. Blood was sacred, largely because of the blood Christ shed on the cross. Sexual immorality was a sin, not only against the people involved, but against Christ and the Church, for every marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church.

Ham and shrimp were forbidden to God’s people under the Law of Moses because they were not part of the sacrificial system like the kosher animals (cattle, sheep, goats, doves, etc.). Ham and shrimp are permitted to God’s people today because we are free, thanks to Christ. Sexual immorality was forbidden to God’s people under the Law of Moses because marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people. Sexual immorality remains forbidden to God’s people today because the love of God has not changed. Some Christians have tried to distinguish the prohibitions by labeling them ceremonial law (no longer valid) and moral law (still valid). This distinction overlooks the fact that Christians are free from all of God’s Law. The burden of the Law has been lifted by Christ. The condemnation of the Law has been removed by Christ. We were dead in our sins until Christ rose and we were raised with him. Our sins are forgiven, our debts are canceled, and the demands of the law have been nailed to the cross. Christ triumphed over all our enemies, and we now share in his victory (Colossians 2:13-15).

We are free from the Law because the substance is Christ. Now our substance is imitation of Christ, which is described by the same Law that once condemned us. The Law describes how we are being transformed into the image of Christ. Therefore, sexual immorality (as well as murder, theft, and dishonesty) is avoided as something Jesus would not do. Respect for God—and for his name and his time—is expected, because this is what Jesus would do. The Law does not threaten us, but it does describe us, because it describes Jesus.

The shadow no longer matters, because Christ has come and has claimed us as his people. We rejoice to be his people and to see ourselves transformed into His image. None of us is perfect yet, but the transformation is under way. Christ makes all the difference in the world. J.

God’s Commands

What is the first command from God in the Bible? I don’t mean the commandment to have no other gods; that is the first of the Ten Commandments given on Mount Sinai. I don’t mean the commandment to love God whole-heartedly; that is the greatest commandment of God, but not the earliest.

Some people will guess that God’s first command was not to eat the fruit of a certain tree. That is the first command from God that was broken, but it was not his first command. Others will remember God’s instruction to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. That was the first command God delivered to Adam and Eve, but it was not his earliest command.

God’s first command was, “Let there be light.” Because God gave that command, light occurred. Don’t let anyone tell you that words have no power. When God speaks, things happen. The universe is unable to resist the will of God when he expresses it with words. As God spoke, the universe came into being, and it still follows the same rules established by God in the beginning. The behavior of the sun, earth, and moon remains consistent with God’s will, so consistent that the shadow of the moon across the earth can be predicted many years in advance or extrapolated far into the past. Plants grow and reproduce according to God’s command, each according to their kind. Animals exist and thrive on the earth and in the water and even flying through the air, each according to their kind. Physics and chemistry and biology are reliable sciences because everything God made continues to work according to his original design.

Everything except people. Unlike everything else in creation, people are free to obey the commands of God or to disobey them. People are free to love God or to reject him. People were created in the image of God, and part of that image is freedom. God is perfectly free, and the people he made have a certain amount of freedom.

Once a person has rebelled against God, though, that person is no longer free. That person has become a slave to sin and is subject to all the consequences of evil, even death. Every day people choose rebellion and sin and death rather than God and life and love. We are no longer in the image of God, because we have exchanged our freedom for sin and death.

In other ways, we maintain part of the image of God, even though much of it has been lost. God creates, and we are able to create. God is perfectly wise, and we are able to exercise wisdom, to gain in knowledge and understanding. God enjoys beauty and has a sense of humor, and we also appreciate beauty and humor. Most of all, God is love, and we show the image of God when we love him and when we love one another.

God commands us to love, and the rest of his commands tell us how to love. God does not command us because he enjoys his authority over us. The commands of God are like an owner’s manual for our lives. If we all followed God’s commands perfectly, none of us would have any problems. We have problems because we, along with the people around us, keep on breaking God’s commands.

The commands of God are useful, even in a sin-stained world. Parents, teachers, managers, legislators, police officers, and judges all have authority to make and enforce rules because of God’s commands. Even our efforts at self-control and courtesy are based upon God’s commands. Although those commands do not make us or the world perfect, God’s commands make the world and us better than we would be left to ourselves.

The commands of God also warn us that we have a problem, namely, sin. They show the difference between the people God intended us to be and the people we, in fact, are. They show how badly we need to be rescued from our own sins and from the evil in the world around us.

Although they show us that we need to be rescued, God’s commands cannot rescue us. They are good, but they still are no help to people seeking to escape sin and evil. Like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable, they walk past us without helping while we are victims of sin and evil. Jesus can and does help us. He heals and restores us, paying any price necessary to bring us back to the people we were meant to be. He restores to us the image of God which we had lost through sin, although we will not fully possess that image until we rise to life in God’s new creation.

Meanwhile, God is transforming us into the image of his Son. As forgiveness is passive, received by us but not earned by us, so the transformation also is passive. Yet we can reject the transformation or we can cooperate with the transformation. When we love God and try to obey his commands, we are cooperating. When we love the people near us and try to serve God by helping those people, we are cooperating.

The commands of God describe the results of the transformation Jesus works in us. The same commands that diagnosed our sin and prescribed a Savior (because the commands themselves cannot heal us) also assist us to cooperate with God’s transformation of our lives. They tell us why God made us, and they tell us what we are like as the children of God.

All this is preamble to what I really wanted to write. I wanted to address the reason that all the commands of God to Israel do not apply to Christians today. This subject I will address in my next post: The difference between ham and premarital sex. J.

 

Of light and darkness

Jesus Christ called himself the Light of the world. He warned that those who do not walk with him are walking in darkness.

This week a conversation between InsanityBytes and VioletWisp explored that idea of light and darkness. Violet pointed out that, “Christians imagine all sorts of things. They imagine that without the intervention and rules of their imaginary god, God, humans would plunge into a dark abyss of destructive, selfish behaviour, seeking momentary pleasure above all else.” Insanity replied that “people in general, in the absence of moral standards, are pretty much driven by pride, selfishness, and this idea that might makes right. We want what we want and we crave power.” Among the comments to Insanity’s post, she was repeatedly asked whether thousands of generations of people outside the Christian world “have all lived in an abysmal, joyless, wretched, civilisationless darkness?” Comments were made about “natural law” and its place among Christians and nonChristians.

Opponents of Christianity tend to attack the idea of Christianity as a source of morality in one of two ways. Sometimes they point out that the religions of the world all have about the same rules—pretty much every religion has the “Golden Rule,” that we should treat others as we wish to be treated. Therefore Christianity can hardly claim exclusive ownership of morality. On the other hand, some beliefs about morality vary greatly from culture to culture. Therefore, they contend, there can be no consistent morality for all people, and Christians therefore cannot impose their moral rules upon others. Of course these two arguments cannot be used together to oppose Christianity, since they cancel out one another.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul discussed natural law. First, he stated that any person can observe the world and deduce the existence of a Creator, even though most religions worship some part of creation rather than its Creator. Next, he spoke of obedience to the Law, pointing out that even people who have never encountered the written Law, delivered at Mount Sinai, still have a version of the law within them. They have consciences which sometimes accuse them and sometimes excuse them. Paul wrote that those who have the written Law will be judged by the written Law, but those who have only the inner law of conscience will be judged by that inner law.

As a result of that inner law, conscience, or “natural law,” the world has known many well-behaved and moral Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Daoists, followers of indigenous religions, atheists, and agnostics. If the truth of Christianity were judged only by the behavior of its followers, Christianity would be no truer than other religions or than no religion at all. Jews and Christians and Muslims consult sacred writings for lists of rules; among other people, morality is taught in the family or in the community, and it is reinforced by conscience.

When dealing with light and darkness, though, the key question is neither, “do you know the rules?” nor “do you follow the rules?” Paul points out that all people—whether they have the written Law or only the law of conscience—have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He goes on to say that all people “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:23-24). The true light comes, not from the rules, but from the grace of God that is greater than all his rules.

IB correctly stated this important point in her post, saying, “Well, actually I believe that without God’s grace, without the sacrifice made for us on the cross, we really would be plunged into a dark abyss, both in this world and beyond. Both literally, metaphorically, and spiritually. It is not really the rules at all Violet, nor the law, but rather Grace.” The Light of the world is found in Christ’s rescue mission, not in his law-giving actions. Those who attempt to live without that grace and forgiveness are living without light, no matter how hard they try to obey the rules, and no matter how well they obey the rules.

Sad to say, even some Christians measure their life in the Light by how well they conform to the Law. They overlook the grace of God as they judge themselves and as they judge one another. Those outside the community of believers easily change the subject to individual rules, whether those that are consistent in all cultures or those that vary among different cultures. So long as we look only at the rules, we are still living in darkness. Only when we look to the Savior will we see the light.

If anyone is interested in viewing this topic from a different direction, I suggest you look at one of my posts from last year: God has two plans. J.